Hydra Head Records to Shut Down
Influential indie label calls it quits after 19 years
According to Greek mythology, if you cut the head off the serpent-like Hydra, it would grow two more heads and become even more deadly and seemingly invincible. And you could even think the same of indie metal label Hydra Head Records, whose reputation over the last 19 years has been so sterling that it seemed unthinkable that it would ever go away any time soon.
Sadly, real life and the continuing decline of the music industry caught up to Hydra Head, and yesterday label founder (and former Isis guitarist) Aaron Turner announced that it would be ceasing operations, with its last new releases coming late this year. In a statement (read it in full here), Turner said:
The decision to pull the plug has not been an easy one, and in some ways is a not a choice at all. The simple fact of the matter is we've been running on empty for a while now and cannot afford to keep our doors open for much longer. Years of imbalance between creative ideals and financial realities, personal problems amongst the label operators, an unwillingness to compromise our aesthetic standards, a tendency towards releasing challenging (i.e. unmarketable) artists, and the steady decline of the music industry in general, are amongst the chief reasons for our inability to continue. It is a harsh but undeniable reality, and one which we are attempting to confront with as much integrity and grace as is afforded by the circumstances.
The home to many of the most important innovators in metal and extreme music on the late-1990s and 2000s, Hydra Head not only put out an eclectic, brilliant array of music, but was hugely influential on other small labels that formed in its wake, such as Profound Lore. To lose such a vital, uncompromising source of groundbreaking music is a huge blow to the metal world. In one of the more perceptive responses to the news yesterday, Pitchfork’s Brandon Stosuy had this to say on Twitter:
Although they won’t be putting out anything new anymore, Hydra Head will still sell its back catalog to help recoup their losses, and there are many great, often essential albums that deserve purchasing rather than downloading via torrent. So if you’ve only owned leaked versions of their releases, have yet to hear the challenging, enthralling music Hydra Head has to offer, or just want to round out your collection, there’s no better way to pay tribute to this label by buying a record or two.
In a little tribute to this fine label, here are my ten personal favorite Hydra Head releases. If you don't own any of these, you might want to consider it:
1. Harvey Milk, Life…The Best Game in Town (2008): Not only was this a return to form by the Georgia sludge greats, but it was one of the very best albums of the 2000s, creepy, ugly, disturbing, unbelievably catchy, and one of a kind.
2. Botch, We Are the Romans (1999): One of the most influential albums of the past 15 years, many, many bands tried to copy this noisecore masterpiece by the Tacoma, Washington band, but all failed.
3. Discordance Axis, The Inalienable Dreamless (2000): One of the most inventive albums in the history of grindcore, the guitar work of John Marton is just as unique as Voivod’s late innovator Denis “Piggy” D’Amour.
4. Torche, Meanderthal (2008): We all had very high expectations for Torche’s second album, and did they ever deliver on Meanderthal, a euphoric blend of stoner grooves, pop hooks, and stunning artwork.
5. Jesu, Conqueror (2007): After the demise of Godflesh, Justin Broadrick moved from punishing industrial metal sounds to more introspective, shoegaze-derived music, and the result was sublime. Conqueror was Jesu’s best work, but 2004’s debut and 2006’s Silver EP are also well worth hearing.
6. Daughters, Daughters (2008): I’d long been fascinated by the Rhode Island experimental band, but was not expecting an album like their third one, which balanced dissonance and infectious hooks like no record I have ever heard.
7. Xasthur, Subliminal Genocide (2006): One of the more mercurial prodigies in American black metal, Scott “Malefic” Conner put out some wildly eclectic albums with Hydra Head, but his 2006 full-length is his best, lo-fi, atmospheric, caustic, and at times even wrenchingly beautiful.
8. Khanate, Clean Hands Go Foul (2009): The final album by the drone/doom supergroup is also their finest, a harrowing, confrontational journey that’s not for the weak of heart.
9. In These Black Days: A Tribute to Black Sabbath (1997-1999): A series of seven-inch singles, it saw Eyehategod, Converge, Coalesce, Botch, Neurosis, and more cover various Black Sabbath songs, with often inspired results. A full CD release featuring all the songs was originally planned, but it sadly never saw the light of day.
10. Pelican, The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw (2005): I’m not the biggest fan of Pelican’s instrumental post-metal, but their 2005 album was as good as they ever got, coming out during the subgenre’s zenith, right before we writers were flooded with imitators who were a lot worse. This album still feels fresh.